Once, long ago, the most excellent band Rodan said they would agree to an interview if they got to ask questions of me as well. I agreed, and it went OK. I still remember their question about how I wipe my butt, which seemed to be equally motivated by bathroom humor and some Freudian idea one of them had. My answer truly surprised them.
Recently, the tables were turned again, when Ann Trusty and John Hulsey sent me interview questions for their artistcentric website The Artist’s Road. It felt weird being the interviewee. But I dearly love Ann and John, and was honored that they would want to hear from me.
Check it out here. It will be behind a paywall pretty soon. Subscribe to The Artist’s Road if you like it–their articles are pretty beefy and helpful. Ω
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked for advice on what materials to get his girlfriend for plein air painting. His last name is not Rockefeller, so I put together the least expensive list of things I could find, without sacrificing quality too much. For $110 you can dive headfirst into plein air painting.
I didn’t address the easel issue, because that is where one can really go off the rails. One could buy a new Soltek easel for $600+ or one could use painter’s tape to secure a cheap canvas panel to an old board and lay it on a picnic table, against a rock, or in one’s lap.
The paints I chose were acrylic because they are arguably easier for a beginner, and solvents present another issue. I didn’t address the water issue, because it’s really not that big of a deal. Frankly, if you can’t solve the issue of having a water dish for your acrylics, you are toast. Painting itself requires a lot of improvisation. Get your Macguyver on. Cut a disposable water bottle in half, dip a cup into a stream, fish a coffee cup out of a garbage can–rarely is a painter left flat-footed for water or a container. I’d worry about dehydration and thirst if water is that scarce where you are.
Anyway, here are the basics, including a split primary palette–a warm and a cool of each of the primary colors, plus a few other key colors. Hope this helps some people. Ω
I grew up in a house that backed up to the 14th Tee of a private country club golf course. My family didn’t belong to the club. My parents weren’t about to spend that kind of money on a club membership, raising six kids.
A lot of my friends in the neighborhood did belong, though. I was a frequent guest of them at the country club pool. In fact, I was so frequent a guest that I was always brown as a biscuit by mid-July, and became so strong of a swimmer that the country club coach asked why I wasn’t on the swim team. The shit hit the fan when he found out that this kid he saw all the time wasn’t even a member.
At times I wished we were members of the country club, but not often. Some of my best friends were. They and their families seemed like really good people for the most part, from what I recall. But there was a fairly large contingent at the club who were boorish. The dads were overweight, the moms were underweight, and both were often drunk. It was good fun to watch certain members zoom up in a golf cart, drunkenly chop at the ball on the 14th tee, curse, and veer away down the fairway, while we ate dinner and watched out our window. And let’s not talk about the clothes. Yeesh.
In high school, I was in the Spanish Club my sophomore year, but as far as my parents knew, I was in the Spanish Club my junior and senior year, too. But those weren’t Spanish Club meetings that were making me come home late. They were detentions.
In college I despised the Greek system because in my freshman year I watched my best friend be humiliated over and over by his “frat brothers” who hazed him as a “pledge.” I couldn’t understand why he accepted the abuse. If somebody slapped my head and called me those names, I would have given them a nice Hawaiian punch. I mercilessly made fun of the fraternity at my small liberal arts college, via a humor column in the student newspaper, and on more than one occasion, I went to frat parties at UofL and flipped the breakers on the fuse box, yelling into the dark, “Frats suck and you all buy your friends!”
So I guess you could say I’ve never been a joiner.
I don’t feel a need to formalize a friendship with other people, pay dues, go to meetings. I would feel pretentious putting letters after my name. I’m a registered Democrat, but I was an independent for years before aligning myself with a party.
But in September, I joined something. Not just a club, but a GUILD. Now, the word “guild” is a dirty one in my vocabulary. I hate the idea of excluding someone from a trade organization until they meet the real or imaginary standards of the establishment. Always seemed elitist, exclusionary, and bullshitty. Nevertheless, Tammy Lucas offhandedly asked if I wanted to be a member of the Wind River Valley Artists Guild, and I found myself immediately saying, “Sure!”
I don’t know.
I imagine that I won’t be terribly active in the organization. After all, it’s located in Dubois, Wyoming, and I live in NYC. It’s not that I’m super close with a lot of the members. I’m sure I know a few because I have experience and connections in the Dubois art scene, but I have no idea who is on the roster. But I’m proud to be a member of the WRVAG nonetheless.
Is it the quilts that members sew, some with depictions of birds so wonderful, each square could be its own piece of art? Is it because their yearly painting and sculpture show is surprisingly big and of good quality even though Dubois is a town without a stoplight?
I think it is for two reasons. First, I love the Wind River Valley. I am eager to make permanent connections there. I’ve already made some good friendships with people in the town of Dubois, and elsewhere in Wyoming.
The second reason is related to the first. Life can be hard in Wyoming. Most of the people I know who live in the Dubois area have more than one job. The high school football coach has a bead store and carves art out of moose antlers. A real estate agent is also a trout fishing guide. A rancher also works at the Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. But the artists in the area do all that they need to do to make a living, AND they put together a show and support each other. That’s my kind of club.
I won’t be putting “WRVAG” at the end of my name on papers, letters, or paintings. It’s funny even to type that. But I’ll be paying my annual dues and stay a member in good standing.
Nobody is more surprised than me. Ω
Every once in a while, fortune truly smiles upon me. An example is meeting Mary Erickson, an artist, a connector, a lovely person. I met Mary at a painting event in the Adirondacks, and we got along well, in part because most people get along well with Mary, and in part because we shared a love of birds, nature, and painting.
Mary likes painting Maine, but she likes to do it with friends. So she started renting a house called Nanatuck outside of Port Clyde, and inviting painting friends to stay for a week and share the costs and cooking. This expanded into six weeks, and a rotating cast of characters.
It’s impossible to describe how Mary manages to stay out of people’s business, encourage their endeavors, smother any emerging drama, foster fellowship, and in general create an environment that is productive, fun, and drenched in beauty. For a week at the end of August, I was a part of the Nanatuck tribe–there to write about artists, but also to be a part of the whole experience.
Painting-wise, I was a guppy among whales. Don Demers was there, and I was reminded how no matter how good a photo of his work may be, it is even better in person. I don’t know of another marine artist who is better at capturing water, sky, and atmosphere. Everyone else was also represented by high-end galleries and enjoying considerable success with their art.
Unless you drive to a bigger town to shop, you will find that chicken costs more than lobster in Port Clyde. So what is a hungry artist to do? I sampled lobster rolls from various shacks, and came away the most impressed by the roll at The Happy Clam. I must admit that the delicious spätzle that was an option for a side dish swayed my opinion somewhat. On my last full day in Maine, I came close to a lobster hat trick–I ate leftover pasta with lobster for breakfast, and had a lobster roll for lunch. Alas, no lobster at dinner. Tough luck, huh?
Maine. The ocean is manganese. The rocks are volcanic, with folds and layers forming ridged granite with much personality. Fog coming off the ocean is grey and cool. Cormorants, American goldfinch, mergansers, gulls, and blue jays are common. Kingfishers, osprey, cedar waxwings, eiders, Canada geese, and chipmunks abound. Pines turn the landscape a deep dark green. The sun can be brutal. The people are friendly. The blueberries are small and flavorful.
My first painting was pretty bad. I was just getting used to the colors. I was trying to figure out how to get verticals into the vistas. The weather was so changeable, and the tide was dramatic and seemed quick.
I soon realized that paintings of any size at all would require two painting sessions at the same time of day. Two of my paintings were completed that way. I painted one triangle painting 80% on site, and it might be my favorite of the trip. On my last day at Nanatuck, I started a painting that went nowhere. But when I finished it up back home in NYC, it turned out well.
The renewal of old friendships and the development of new ones, the art-making, the food, the beauty of Maine, the simplicity of our days were fantastic, but the most important aspect of my week at Nanatuck was being Bob Bahr. At home, I am Daddy. I am a husband. I am a writer known only on the phone and online. I am a painter who posts to Facebook and Etsy. At Nanatuck, I was a person, relatively unknown, free to be me, free to be social or antisocial, free to be generous and gregarious or reclusive and resting, free to experiment or to paint traditionally, free to let my personality come out. I am loved at home, but I am old news, seen in one way. Being around supportive people, creative people with little experience with me, allows me to reestablish what makes me, me. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but I can’t stress how important it is.
So, thanks, Mary.
With apologies to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I present this fun little painting.
Lynne and I saw this song sparrow nearly every morning for a month on our morning walks to Dyckman Fields. We walk together for exercise, but it also gives us a chance to talk to each other beyond the admin stuff that dominates so much of our household conversation. Each morning, this little bird inspired me, singing his heart out, head tilted up to the skies. Wonderful.
So I took lots of photos. I drew him a few times and settled on a pose. I drew the pose on a piece of wood I–ahem–upcycled from the curb, and sent the photo to my good friend Jim Coe for advice. He is a bird expert and a fine painter, so I wanted to know if I were veering too far off the path on this. I am not a very tight painter, but accuracy counts. That’s the journalist side of me.
So he gave some tips and i burned it and then I painted it with acrylic. I love this darling little thing, but I put it up for sale here.
For a couple of years, I’ve been borrowing my older son’s woodburning tool to draw on wood, then painting it with acrylic paints. I’ve used slices from tree trunks and nice hardwood boards from drawers I find discarded on the sidewalk here in Inwood.
This morning, I drew, burnt, and painted this drawer back. I took the photo of the American goldfinches about two weeks ago on a morning walk with my wife.
I enjoy burning wood, and have since I was a boy. I like painting on wood, too.
I’ve been sort of obsessed with triangles lately.
I know when it happened, but I’m not sure why. It started with this:
No one knows for certain where this teepee-like structure came from. Artists of all ages often build interesting little installations in Inwood Hill Park made from natural materials. So it could be that. One person swore that there was a movie shot at the spot, and the film crew built it as a set.
Regardless, my younger son and his friends were thrilled with it. And the more I looked at it, the more I was struck by how the triangle shape of the shelter was echoed in the very dark lower trunk of the tree at the top of the hill. Then I saw that the massive rocks descending the hill were triangles. And the sky holes formed by large tree branches, too. Soon, I saw triangles everywhere.
I came back to paint the shelter, making sure that the dark trunk of the ridge tree was in the composition. That study was good and pretty interesting to me, but I wanted to push it.
One Saturday, my wife and I decided it was a good day for “divide and conquer,” meaning we split up the boys and each of us does something with one of them to keep them from killing each other (and ganging up on us!) I took Charlie to the park and took my plein air kit. He took baseball equipment and his scooter. I saw triangles in the marsh scene. I painted this:
That was exciting to me, although it seemed to horrify or puzzle most passersby.
The next week, I took this painting back to the shelter spot, and painted over it, abstracting the scene into triangles. I knew what this was for. I wanted my friend Danny to own this one. At first, I thought I would leave about half of the original painting, shown below, which depicts Dyckman Street, looking down Seaman Ave. But the leaves and hillside gradually took over the canvas.
In the end, only a bit of the first painting showed through. I liked how the pre-War buildings of Seaman Ave were peaking through a painting of a very different kind of shelter. This was Inwood from the times of the Lenape people to today. I shot a photo of “Shelter,” but in progress. I mailed off the painting to Danny without photographing the finished product. Doh!
I started reading about triangles. I learned that they are symbolic of many things. The downward pointing triangle appealed the most to me. It represents abundance, plenty (the “cups” cards of the Tarot), fertility, the female genitalia, water. The upward pointing triangle symbolizes power, stability, maleness.
But mostly, I saw triangles all over in the landscape.
The next triangle painting explored the female angle of triangles. I painted my wife’s legs.
That worked out well, with the legs abstracted to show the warm and cool of colors on the form. Next, I took a photo of mine of a summer tanager and abstracted it a bit with triangles. I liked how I could use triangles to break up the preponderance of blue sky. The triangles also suggested the tree branches pretty well.
Then, I painted with my friend Tony Winters, and this gave me a chance to paint the Henry Hudson Bridge from a different angle, using triangles.
And this latest triangle painting is for our downstairs neighbor, the wonderful MJ. It’s my gift to her on her 9th birthday.
I don’t know when this will end or where it will lead. Right now, I am happy to go back and forth between triangles and more representational work. Ω
**Visit my Etsy shop if you are interested in one of the paintings: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BobBahrArt?ref=below-listing-title
I painted this piece this afternoon, standing in the median at Broadway and Isham, in Inwood, NYC. My kids go to Good Shepherd School. Buy it here.
I now sell some of my art on Etsy, at affordable prices. Please have a look!